On Sept. 10, Deborah Jordan got the hell out of Portland.
She'd been living in town for much of this year—first at a motel, then in an Airbnb on Southeast Division Street. It was a bus ride away from the Multnomah County Jail, where Pete Santilli—her boyfriend, YouTube co-host and partner in provocation—awaited trial on federal conspiracy charges. He'd been arrested Jan. 26 for his role as documenter and hype man for anti-government militant Ammon Bundy's seizure of Eastern Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January.
On Sept. 6, federal prosecutors dropped the charges against Santilli. He was shipped to a prison in Nevada, to face nearly two dozen charges related to another Bundy family standoff with the feds. Jordan followed him to Las Vegas.
Yet Jordan and Santilli remain an outsized presence in Portland's federal courthouse—thanks to the hundreds of hours of footage they broadcast from the wildlife refuge as part of a web series called The Pete Santilli Show.
On Sept. 19, federal prosecutors played footage of Santilli interviewing a militant named Jon Ritzheimer—dressed in full body armor—about rumors the FBI intended to storm the refuge, and the occupiers' plans to fight back. There's more where that came from: The U.S. attorney for Oregon has introduced 15 episodes of The Pete Santilli Show as evidence against Ammon Bundy and his seven co-defendants.
Jordan helped produce much of the tape—including a sickening clip from 2013 played in court Jan. 31 in which Santilli declared Hillary Clinton "should be arrested, tried for treason and shot in the vagina."
The woman who worked alongside Santilli as he broadcast such shows—what he describes as shock-jock entertainment and others call treason—has received little attention compared to the brash men at the front of the Malheur takeover. Yet she was on the front lines of the standoff, and has no regrets about recording it for posterity and the feds.
"There wasn't one person up there who was camera-shy," Jordan says. "And we keep the cameras rolling. It's a double-edged sword. These guys wanted to speak. I don't know why they would be ashamed of what they had to say now."
Santilli filmed constantly during the occupation, with Jordan lining up interviews and handling the technical aspects of the show.
He reported the events of the occupation for his viewers, but he also appeared entangled with the inner workings, conferring in whispered conversations with Ammon Bundy and yelling through a bullhorn to drown out the voices of counterprotesters and reporters who asked questions he didn't like.
He used that bullhorn to howl down Kierán Suckling, director of Arizona-based environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity, who tried to speak to reporters at the refuge during a press conference.
"Pete holds his bullhorn one inch from my face and screams through it that I'm a liar and a sodomist," Suckling recalls. "Then he blew the airhorn in my face."
Those moments are exactly what the show's viewers want to see. Jordan estimates that viewers watched 44 million minutes of the live-streamed footage the couple posted to their YouTube channel during the occupation.
"Pete and Kierán had a pissing match," Jordan says. "And that's great for live streaming. That's what our audience wants to see. Pete will make people lose their composure, and he will film it and say, 'See? They are just as human as we are.' And that's when the truth comes out."
For five years, Jordan, 56, has helped Santilli arrange those confrontations. She's traveled with him from their home in Cincinnati to Arizona, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Baltimore—the latter two locations for Black Lives Matter protests, which the couple covered sympathetically.
"We got a lot of flak from the patriot community for covering those protests," Jordan says. But the duo likes any demonstration against governmental power—and Santilli was able to provoke Geraldo Rivera into calling him a "fascist."
Those moments also pay the bills, via ads for trucks and power tools, as well as anonymous donors.
Jordan met Santilli, 51, in 2011 through the online virtual world Second Life, where Jordan was publicizing her career as a singer in the Cincinnati rock band White Star. "You get to the age where you don't want to sing in a bar anymore," Jordan says.
Jordan says it was Santilli's brash honesty that originally attracted her to him.
"I liked that he actually had the nerve to call it like it was," she said. "He pushed the First Amendment right to the edge. This is unpopular speech, which is what the Constitution protects, at its best."
Jordan became a kind of Robin Quivers to Santilli's Howard Stern. "I'm that buffer," she says. "I smooth things over. I'm the person who's like, 'Oh my God, why are you saying this?' But I also think it's hilarious."
Santilli, reached by phone at the Multnomah County Detention Center, called Jordan his "counterbalance."
"I'm extremely passionate and energetic," Santilli said. "She's much more thoughtful. I think the listeners have really taken to her, and they've embraced the show because somebody that's thoughtful, kind and reserved like her would even hang out with somebody as rambunctious as me."
Others who've encountered the couple are less complimentary.
"As broad as the definition of a journalist might be, there's no definition that includes assault of a federal officer or preventing people from speaking at a press conference," says Suckling. "The First Amendment doesn't give you the right to break the law."
Jordan says Ammon Bundy invited her and Santilli to cover the Jan. 2 protest in Burns, Ore., against the imprisonment of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. But she says Bundy didn't mention anything about taking over a refuge.
Even so, it was clear from the beginning that what was happening was very different from a protest, Jordan says.
"It was pretty scary," she says. "There was so much confusion. I went over our videos from the rally again and again. I could hear the panic in my voice. We're live-streamers, so those moments are captured for eternity. We capture history. That's what we do."
Jordan has done only sporadic broadcasting with Santilli behind bars. On her way down to Nevada, she stopped in Burns for an "Unindicted Co-Conspirators BBQ" held in her honor. She said the FBI never interviewed her.
"They never talked to me, not one time," Jordan says.
She says she and Santilli will resume their show. But it may sound a little different.
"One thing is for sure—he's not going to be poking at the FBI quite so much," Jordan says. "I think he learned his lesson. We all have. Because this is about them not liking Pete, not about him breaking the law."
Correction: This story incorrectly stated that the Center for Biological Diversity is based in Portland. It is based in Tucson, Arizona. WW regrets the error.